Editorial: Let's consign school balls to history

A detector dog at the St Kentigern College Ball. Photo / Chris Loufte
A detector dog at the St Kentigern College Ball. Photo / Chris Loufte

There is nothing glamorous about being inspected by a sniffer dog. When those subjected to this scrutiny are dressed in their finery, the sense of mortification must run all the deeper. This was the lot of some of the pupils and their dates who attended St Kentigern College's annual ball.

This weekend, those going to the Diocesan School for Girls ball will be subjected to attention from an alcohol and drug detection agency. It is almost as though schools are being forced to make these events such a disagreeable experience that their passing will not be mourned.

If so, they could be excused. The death of a pupil this month after the King's College ball has focused attention on a social custom that has clearly run its course.

The spectacle of teenagers going to considerable expense to look their elegant best and being transported to balls in the modern equivalent of the gilded carriage has always owed more to Jane Austen than the 21st century.

It is something of a mystery that they were not replaced by something more befitting this age many years ago. If nothing else, the current problems confirm that time has surely come.

Many Auckland principals are clearly at their wits' end, and in no little despair, about the issues at and around balls. Schools have done their level best to educate pupils about drug and alcohol abuse. They have liaised with and tried to dissuade parents planning to serve alcohol at pre-ball and after-ball functions.

Sometimes, this has been to no avail. There is only so much that schools can do with parents who seem as wrapped up in the whole occasion as their children and want to call the tune. Indeed, in some cases, the actual ball seems to have become an intrusion on the pre-ball and after-ball partying.

Clearly, some principals have had enough of this feeling of powerlessness. They have become intent on keeping their pupils out of harm's way in matters they can control. They are also facing the reality that some pupils will use liquor and drugs at these functions. King's College is questioning whether it will continue holding balls. Diocesan is thinking along much the same lines.

Both suggest the annual ball could be overtaken by the graduation ball at the end of the year, which would be attended by parents as well as Year 13 pupils, rather than pupils and their dates.

In this way, it would have a similar feel to the valedictory dinners that are a feature of Australian school life. The appeal of this approach, said the King's College headmaster, Bradley Fenner, was that it encouraged "social interaction without the risks".This is a reasonable and realistic response. Zero-tolerance policies have not worked. Any attempt to impose still stricter rules at balls is sure to be abused. Such have been the controversies over the past few years that they have become a byword for bad behaviour.

Something that had always seemed merely a quaint anachronism is now, fairly or not, thought of more in terms of trouble. And when schools feel the need to go to the lengths employed by St Kentigern College and Diocesan to counter pupils' behaviour, it seems only sensible to consign them to history.

- NZ Herald

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